It’s a snippet of conversation I had a few weeks ago with a friend. Sitting across the table with beers and dry ribs, it was the first time we’d gotten together like that in more than a year. A lot can change in a year, and for me it was one in which I became increasingly entrenched in the post-charismatic camp. For him, it was a year overseas, away from church, family, and friends. He has an occasional habit of recording sermons by a local pastor at another church when they air on television, and sometimes he ends up recording the program that comes on afterward as well. The second program was our seguay. The preacher is head (I would say pastor, but it’s more a CEO thing) of one of the biggest churches in town, and it’s one with a prosperity stripe.
He told me that he didn’t agree with everything the guy said, but that he was a good preacher and had some good things to say in his messages. My response was probably written on my face. Sometimes it’s hard for me to let stuff like that go by without comment or without logging a reaction of some kind. Perhaps it’s that I no longer care enough about suppressing it. And this guy I don’t have much respect for. The preacher, I mean, not my friend. This friend is one of my oldest. Not that he’s one of the oldest, but that… oh, never mind.
So in reply to his inquiry following my unspoken reaction, I told him that one of two things were true. Either that preacher and I were not serving the same God, or else one of us didn’t know him.
“That’s harsh,” he replied.
I agreed that it was, but said I stood by it.
Now, is my statement too harsh, or is it warranted? In my view, the prosperity gospel is a clear distortion of what Jesus taught, and a gospel corruption of fairly mammoth portions. It’s all well and good to say that people in the Word/Faith or Prosperity movement are our brothers and sisters in Christ, but at the same time their message is so fundamentally different at its core than what I understand of the gospel that it gives me pause. Yes, I’m sure we would both affirm the same basic tenets of the faith… but how far beyond that? In my view, their message is actually a damaging one. I want to live and let live, but when the message causes harm to others, I have a much harder time ignoring it as though it were innocuous.
In the case of the prosperity gospel — or many charismatic, or fundamentalist forms of the faith — there is an adding to the gospel, so that the words of Jesus and the simplicity of “his yoke” are not enough in the view of these preachers and church communities. Didn’t Paul have some very harsh words for the Galatians over just this same essential point?
Tried to to write to you on e-mail but it got kicked back as undeliverable.
I think I’d vote “too harsh.” Maybe by a hair.
Grace and Peace,
warranted…not harsh…just being real and being honest…i wish i could be this honest…i feel these sentiments and ask the same question you posed quite often these days…”are he/she and i really serving the same God?” but i don’t always speak my mind…i think we are in an age of political correctness (which is often necessary), so we are hesitant to call each other out. should we let people slip off and lead others astray just because saying something makes us look “harsh”? good post!
I would say it wasn’t too harsh. I live in Mexico. My neighbor makes $70 a week. He and his wife keep “planting their seed” waiting for God to bring their fruit. He has confessed to me many times how he is trying to find the sin in his life that is preventing God from overfilling his cup.
Sure the preacher is wealthy. He has 200 people sowing their enourmous seeds into his seedy pants pocket 3 times a week. So it seems like it’s working for him. And he (the preacher) might even believe it.
I’m sure you’ve seen the John Piper prosperity gospel video on youtube. if you haven’t search for it and check it out. I think his harshness far exceeds yours.
I’ve often wondered the same thing about prosperity preachers and fundamentalists. When I hear fundamentalist preachers speak about all those who are masquerading as Christians, I feel like telling them that they need to take a look at their own glass house before throwing stones at others.
I suppose I’m a master of second-guessing, and this situation is a hard one … especially when one has made a commitment NOT to protect those who wound others with their spiritual and emotionally abusive theology, “ministry,” and activities.
I’m not trying to slip out of the question by wrangling about words, but I would suggest that what you said definitely was BLUNT and based on ACCURATE JUDGMENT. It could be backed up by substantial scriptural documentation as well as documentation about the stark realities of what generally happens to people who follow such theologies Also, you might be able to offer specific incidents related to this local preacher.
If it were only HARSH and JUDGMENTAL, it would leave no room for hope, and/or would be said with sarcasm (which from its Greek roots literally means to “rip flesh”), and/or couldn’t be backed up with clear and compelling evidence. (Of course, part of the problem is when recipients of evidence are unwilling to deal with it when it goes against them.)
In the New Testament, we often see severe warnings and consequences for spiritually abusive leaders, false teachers, those who would seek to buy the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, or lie in public about their spiritual activities, etc. Kindness/softness is explicitly reserved for those who are immature in wisdom or older but in the faith.
Meanwhile, bluntness and public rebukes are given when warranted. How else can we understand the writings of John, the “Apostle of Love” – meant to be read aloud in public – in which he bluntly warns about Diotrephes, who loves to have preeminence, gossips maliciously, and blocks the welcoming of brothers in Christ (2 John 9-10)?
Similarly, how else can we understand the writings of Paul, who in the same chapter of 1 Timothy says, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father …” in chapter 5:1 and yet several paragraphs later says, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning … keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favouritism” (chapter 5:19-21)?
If I may be so sophomoric as to raise the “WWJD?” mantra. I believe your ‘rebuke’ would be considered mild by the standard Jesus publicly set in turning over tables and cracking a whip over some charlatan’s backs. I have very little patience with those who pervert the gospel and I believe it to be a biblical position to take. See 1 Timothy 6:3-10 for further thought.
Yeah, I have a real hard time with that whole prosperity crapola myself. I’ve tried to listen to the preaching (pretty sure I know what program but then again, pick one) to see if I can get past the surface stuff but I just don’t have the ability (I have a very sensitive gag reflex I guess). I know that God is doing work in that preacher guy as He is in me. I know, I know.
This is such a difficult one, the bible challenges us to be wise, to use discernment, to examine things against scripture, and yet when we raise any questions or concerns that come out of doing what scripture tells us we get beaten with the baseball bat of ‘judge not’. I really wish we (meaning the church) could get the balance right, i.e. discerning and examining with wisdom and love…